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Bible Engagement Blog


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Rooting out legalism

There’s an injunction in Galatians 6:1 to “watch yourself.” Eugene Peterson in the Message interprets this command as “saving your critical comments for yourself.” Sometimes (and tragically) the Pharisee in me gets the better of me. Instead of watching myself, I see the speck in someone else’s eye. Which got me thinking about rooting out legalism in my life, and then got me thinking about rooting out legalism in how I engage with the Bible. So here are my thoughts as they pertain to rooting out legalism in Bible engagement:

To begin, I should probably admit to a tendency to promote my own personal Bible engagement standards. My personal standards are rules or expectations expressed in words like, “Christians should have a ‘quiet time’ (prayer and Bible reading) every day.” While this personal standard may be okay for me, it’s not okay for me to press others to adopt this standard.

When I was a young Christian I was free and easy about urging fellow Christians to have a quiet time. I didn’t appreciate that what I was doing was legalistic. Most legalists are legalists without realizing it.

Recognizing that the fog of legalism is ever present helped me identify four legalistic Bible engagement inclinations that I need to guard against:

  1. Self-righteousness. If I read and reflect on God’s Word in a way that makes sure others are aware of my good behaviour, I’ve crossed the line into legalism. Performance-based Christianity should never be the goal of Bible engagement.
  2. Human effort. If my motive for reading and reflecting on God’s Word is to exert all the energy I can muster to make God happy or be a good Christian, I’ve got it all wrong. Bible engagement conducted in my own strength is antithetical.
  3. Religious duty. Reading and reflecting on God’s Word to be devout or faithful is another form of legalism. The spirit of legalism is also inherent in the fear that God might punish or reject me for not reading or reflecting on His Word. Religious duty is the enemy of Bible engagement.
  4. Personal standards. Telling others to “Read your Bible every day” is legalism. It’s not a command in the Bible and I shouldn’t equate personal values with God’s values. That to identify that the measure of Bible engagement is in God’s hands, not mine.

 

That’s my Bible engagement short list for rooting out legalism. It reminds me that Bible engagement should never be obedience to a formula or special moral code. Bible engagement, correctly undertaken, breaks all bondage to legalism and sets me free. For true Bible engagement is a grace-filled, Christ-exalting, kingdom-championing process that liberates me to live fully and only all for Jesus.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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On the Emmaus Road

There are two striking moments in the Luke 24:13-35 story about the two disciples on the Emmaus road: They didn’t recognize Jesus when He first joined them and they recognized Him after “he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning him” Luke 24:27.

Lots of people want to see Jesus. Yet few do. Maybe we don’t encounter Jesus because we don’t engage with His Word.

I love it when the Emmaus Road story gets to Luke 24:31-32. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him …” Note the phrase, “their eyes were opened.” After Jesus had gone through the Old Testament explaining to Cleopas and friend what was said about Him, they saw Jesus.

They saw Jesus! When the Scriptures were opened up to them, it opened them up to Jesus! No wonder they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32.

God’s Word is unlike any other word! When we open the Scriptures, we open a window to see Jesus.

In the context of our existence there are two windows through which we can look – the window to the world and the window to Jesus.

If we look closely through the window to the world, like really look beyond everything we see in the foreground, we’ll see nothing but worthlessness and pointlessness. The world’s best things at best are painted nothings and false joys. “Everything,” in the world, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:2, is “utterly meaningless!”

But when we look through the window of Scripture, like really look, we see the extraordinary, glorious, unbridled, beautiful, astonishing, magnificent Jesus. As the 19th century Anglican clergyman J. C. Ryle says, “In every part of both Testaments, Christ is to be found – dimly and indistinctly at the beginning – more clearly and plainly in the middle – fully and completely at the end – but really and substantially everywhere.”

Do you want to see Jesus? To see Him you’ve got to open the Word and give it your full attention.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Teaching Bible Engagement

I’ve attended many local churches in the course of my Christian life, yet I’ve never attended a church where the members of the congregation are taught how to read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word. That’s alarming, isn’t it? Especially when comprehensive research reveals that reading and reflecting on God’s Word is the primary factor in our personal and congregational spiritual health and growth.

One would think that teaching Bible engagement would be something that every pastor would regularly do with his/her congregation. But they usually don’t. The average Christian in the average church has never been practically coached in how to contemplate, pray, synthesize, analyze, meditate, study, interpret, imagine, listen, memorize, journal, sing, or apply God’s Word.

Looking back to when I used to be a pastor, I confess that I didn’t teach Bible engagement. Why? Because I didn’t identified it as a priority, and because my focus was generally on preaching, counselling, and organizing the ministry of the church.

Hindsight is 20/20. If I ever pastor a congregation again, I’d do a lot of things differently. One thing I’d definitely do would be to teach everyone how to engage with the Bible. This not because my existing ministry involves advocating for Bible engagement, but because I’m convinced that the single most helpful thing a pastor can do for a congregation is to facilitate encounters with Jesus in and through His Word.

One of the things pastors need to guard against is good things becoming the enemy of what’s best. Yes, it’s good to preach and teach God’s Word. But when preaching and teaching cultivates spiritual dependence on a pastor, and not a reliance on God’s Word, then the good’s become the enemy of what’s best.

American preacher Francis Chan says, “Church is the way it is because we led them here.” Pastors, maybe it’s time to change up what you’re doing. How can you help your congregation develop the skills to correctly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15)? And what would it take for you to enable every person in your congregation (young and old) to connect regularly and effectively with God’s Word?

Most pastors would probably agree that a large group of people in their church are spiritual infants. Mature believers are sometimes few and far between. Even though solid biblical teaching may exist in a church, a congregation often reaches a spiritual plateau beyond which they don’t grow. So to help people grow spiritually, we often invite them to join a mid-week small group.

Mid-week small groups play a part in helping people engage with the Bible. But mid-week small groups aren’t enough. People can attend a small group and still lack the personal skills required for effective reading, reflecting, remembering and responding to God’s Word. That’s because studying God’s Word with others isn’t the same as developing an individual’s capacity to meet with God daily in the Word.

All this to suggest that pastors should never assume, as I did, that if people in a congregation simply know how to read (or listen) and are given a Bible reading plan or guide, then that’s all they need to get into God’s Word. Bible engagement, the type that builds mature believers, requires much more than an ability to read/listen.

So pastors, if you’re serious about your calling “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12), please make teaching Bible engagement one of your top priorities.

[Recommended resource for teaching Bible engagement – Bible Engagement Basics]

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Family Bible Engagement

Many Christian parents want to raise their children in the way of the Lord, but see it as a daunting task – especially when they don’t know what to do or how to do it. So here are some suggestions concerning family Bible engagement:

  1. Make the Bible accessible. Remarkably, in many Christian homes, the Bible isn’t readily available. Children are naturally curious. If the Bible is left sitting on the kitchen table and they see you regularly opening and reading it, they’ll be more likely to open and read it too. “We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders” Psalm 78:4 (NLT).
  2. Draw them into the Story. Children love stories and the Bible is full of them (80% of the Bible is narrative). With children up to 12 years of age you should mainly share the Gospel stories and aim to help them see Jesus and His phenomenal love for them, because this is where Christian faith begins. “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” Psalm 119:130 (NIV).
  3. Be enthusiastic. Many years ago our family was invited to dinner with another family. When we’d finished eating the father pulled out the KJV and began to read. He read for about 10 minutes in a way that had me praying for the agony to end! Since then I’ve always told parents to use a version of the Bible with contemporary language and to read it with a voice that suitably dramatizes the text and gets the children wanting to hear more.
  4. Lead them to Jesus. Above all else, family Bible engagement should be Jesus engagement. When you open the Bible, do so in a way that opens a window through which your children can see Jesus. The primary aim of family Bible engagement should be nothing less than to see the beauty, glory, grace, and awesomeness of Jesus.
  5. Share the adventure. Jump in – boots and all! Think of family Bible engagement as a quest, i.e. the pursuit of Jesus. There’s no perfect way to do family Bible engagement, but when imperfect people journey together in the Word, amazing and exciting things happen. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” Luke 11:28 (NIV).
  6. Incorporate object lessons. Jesus constantly used familiar examples from everyday life in His preaching and teaching. Object lessons, properly used, capture the children’s attention and helps them connect the dots to a biblical truth. Here’s where Google is helpful – simply search for “Kids object lesson on …………. (insert topic)” and you’ll discover lots of ideas.
  7. Engage the senses. Family Bible engagement should incorporate all five senses. Sight and sound are more commonly used in Bible engagement, so it usually requires a little creative preparation to integrate taste, touch and smell. For example, when reading about Jesus being the “bread of life” (cf. John 6:35) you can employ all the senses by eating some freshly baked bread.
  8. Look for teachable moments (unplanned opportunities to provide insight and understanding). Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open to what’s happening in the lives of your children. God’s Word will come alive for children when you sense and seize on everyday happenings in their lives as openings to instruct and apply biblical truth.
  9. Rely on the Holy Spirit. Bible engagement isn’t a solo affair. The One who is the Word teaches children the Word. He will also direct you as you connect your family with the Word. So make it your responsibility to draw your children to the Word, and trust Him to open their hearts and minds to Him. “The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth: John 16:13 (CEV).
  10. Pray the Scriptures. Children should pray the Word as naturally as they read the Word. When children pray the Word it transforms their hearts. Which is why prayer should never be rushed and the content should be closely aligned with what’s been gleaned from a text/passage.

While much more could be said, there’s probably enough in the points above to help you and your family meet with Jesus in and through His Word. Regardless of whether you incorporate all or some of the suggestions for family Bible engagement, don’t hold back from doing everything you can do to help your family grow in their love for the Word and for the One who is the Word, Jesus Christ.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Kids Can Read The Bible Too!

Amy Csoke, a colleague at Scripture Union, recently entitled one of her workshops, “Kids Can Read the Bible Too!” It’s a great title and I’m hoping it catches the attention of Christian parents and teachers who want to help children read God’s Word.

Before we get to the practical part of how kids can read the Bible too, there are three essential Bible reading principles we must teach children:

  1. We must read the Bible focused on Jesus. The principal reason why we read the Bible should be to know the One of whom it speaks (cf. Luke 24:27, John 5:39-40). Bible reading should connect children with Jesus as King so that they see themselves as citizens in His kingdom. “Our goal must be for kids to catch this rock-their-world vision of Jesus,” says author Jack Klumpenhower. So Bible reading should never major on gathering information or knowledge, developing biblical literacy, teaching Christian morality, providing answers for pressing needs, or changing a child’s behaviour.
  2. The Bible is read according to its conditions and context, not ours. When children read the Bible, they can’t read it like they read other books. That’s because the Bible “is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12a) and as such, reads us. God’s Word isn’t like our words. In fact God’s Word has authority over our words and even “judges the thoughts and attitudes of [our hearts]” Hebrews 4:12d.
  3. Bible reading requires the reader to enter into the Story. Children can’t read the Bible at arm’s length. They’ve got to read it intimately and engagingly. That’s because the Bible is a spacious realm that invites us to actively come in with imagination and faith, and once we’ve entered, to be participants who get caught up in it by receiving and reenacting it.

So with these three principles in mind, how do we help children read (listen, reflect, engage) the Bible dynamically? Here are ten practical suggestions:

  1. Sing it. When children sing the Word, it brings their hearts “into alignment with God’s heart, with God’s ways, with God’s plans, and with God’s personality,” says Stuart Greaves from the International House of Prayer.
  2. Draw it. Artistic reflection is a powerful way to focus attention on the text because it’s a process that provides creative space for children to linger in the Word. Using water-colours, stencils, markers, sharpies, crayons and such are tools that enable children to surmount spiritual, intellectual or emotional obstacles and meet with God.
  3. Act it. Drama can grip, shape, move and inspire. Especially for children who learn by doing, acting out a story enables them to own it.
  4. Write it. Using a pen or pencil to write out a Scripture passage or verse allows a child to slow down and mull over the words or phrases.
  5. Pray it. The best prayers are those birthed, informed and sustained by the Word. Bible reading and prayer go together. To read right, children must pray the Word; and to pray right, children must read the Word.
  6. Memorize it. When God’s Word is learnt by heart, it reprograms the heart. And more. Scripture memorization draws a child more fully into the Story and builds confidence in reading, reflecting, remembering and responding to the Word.
  7. Contemplate it. Children need to listen to the Word in order to be shaped by the Word. Children’s ministry specialist, Ivy Beckwith, says, “Without silliness and sometimes with profundity, children can do silence.”
  8. Question it. Asking questions, including tough ones, is an essential skill that every child should learn in order to interpret God’s Word. The six questions children must ask of the text is who, what, where, why, when and how.
  9. Enter it. Children should be invited to penetrate a Bible story more holistically by picturing themselves as one of the characters in the story or by stepping into it through the use of sanctified imagination.
  10. Live it. The main body parts for reading the Bible aren’t the eyes and brain, it’s the hands and feet. To read the Bible well, children must learn the Nike principle – “Just do it!”

And one more suggestion: We’re better together. Yes, kids can read the Bible too, but they need you. According to the African proverb, “If you want to go far, go together.” Children need you to journey with them in their Bible reading so that when they require help, lack discipline, or get discouraged, you’re there to support and help them persevere.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Kingdom Focused Bible Engagement

In many instances Bible engagement has been reduced to majoring on the bits of the Bible that speak to making the world a better place through social activism, the golden rule as it applies to living a decent life (cf. Matthew 7:12), or using the Scriptures to underpin religious duties and obligations. But Bible engagement is about something far bigger than cherry picking Bible verses to inform our good works, good morality, or good religion per se.

Bible engagement is counter cultural. For Bible engagement to truly happen, we can’t be double minded. We can’t serve two masters (cf. Matthew 6:24). Bible engagement begins when we turn away from our old way of life and invite Christ to give us new life. And it proceeds as we sever our loyalties to the world and give our total allegiance to Christ (cf. Luke 14:33).

When we connect with the Bible, everything should change. We cannot continue to think and do life as we’ve done it before. Bible engagement requires a new way of being and a new way of living. We must relinquishing all we have to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 14:25-27). And for that to happen, Bible engagement has to be kingdom focused.

So what does kingdom focused Bible engagement look like? Kingdom focused Bible engagement is giving our unreserved commitment to the King and His kingdom. It’s submitting fully to Christ’s reign over our lives. And it occurs as we continually respond to God’s Word in ways that indicate that Christ is working in and through us.

While kingdom focused Bible engagement is embodied in Christ, it also includes everyone who submits to His kingship (cf. Romans 5:10). Bible engagement should never be an exclusively private or internal affair. Yes, Bible engagement concerns me, but it’s more about us. That’s because the kingdom of God is about community – about Christ’s Word being embodied and manifested in the lives of all of His kingdom citizens.

This is the good news: Bible engagement is about being liberated and empowered. It’s entering the throne room, encountering the King, and embracing, sharing and enjoying the fullness of kingdom life (cf. John 10:10). But wait, there’s more! When we’ve finished being part of the kingdom that’s here, we get to be part of the kingdom to come (cf. 1 Timothy 6:19).

Now before we get too heavenly minded that we’re of no practical use, let’s not forget that kingdom focused Bible engagement, while eternity bound, has an earthly home. Bible engagement is about God’s future turning up in the present. Bible engagement was never meant to be esoteric. Bible engagement is for this world, but not of this world. The Bible engagement prayer is “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10. And for this prayer to be apprehended, kingdom citizens must live out the Word in ways that bring honour and glory to the King.

This to simply say that Bible engagement is Jesus engagement, and Jesus engagement is kingdom engagement. The three go together. They’re distinct, but not separate. When we engage with the Bible, we should do so with the express purpose of engaging with Christ. And as we engage with Christ, we should do so with the express purpose of being kingdom focused.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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State of the Bible 2018

Since 2011 the Barna Group has conducted an annual survey concerning the state of the Bible in the USA. The survey is commissioned by the American Bible Society and conducted by the Barna Group. It aims to gather insights into the multifaceted relationship that Americans have with God’s Word and includes findings on Bible engagement, Bible impact, perceptions of the Bible, Bible penetration, Bible literacy, the Bible and technology, moral perceptions and social impact, fearfulness and hope for the future, experiences with trauma and charitable giving.

In essence this year’s findings in the State of the Bible 2018 Report revealed that the majority of Americans (57%) aspire to using the Bible more than they currently do. For information on the other findings, click here to download the whole report.

Here are some thoughts concerning the Bible Engagement component (Section 1) of the report:

The term “use the Bible” is common in the report. It’s a term that’s wrongly applied to Bible engagement. When we engage with the Bible we should never do so as if it’s a commodity/product that can be exploited. True Bible engagement isn’t something that we can control/manage. Nor is Bible engagement something that’s subordinated to our intellect. God is the master of what we read/hear, not us. “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4:12 (NIV). That is, the Bible reads us! So our approach, when reading/reflecting on the Word, should be one of humble listening.

Comparing the necessity of the Bible “in daily life” with “coffee, something sweet” and “social media” is off-base. It reduces Bible engagement to a popularity contest. And why would we do that? Bible engagement isn’t about how trendy or well-liked the Bible may or may not be. Our reading, drinking and eating preferences are a non-issue. The necessity in Bible engagement is whether people are, or are not, cultivating an intimate reciprocating relationship with Jesus Christ.

“The level of Bible use and desire for use” also seems to be an emphasis in the report that’s barking up the wrong tree. Reducing Bible engagement to how frequently we read/listen to the Bible is legalism. Legalism should never be the basis for measuring Bible engagement. The real measure of Bible engagement is an increase in compassion, patience, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, goodness, hope, peace, healing, faithfulness, worship, growth in Christ likeness, and love – not wishing we’d “used the Bible more often.”

Finally, it was a relief to see in the “Bible Curiosity” chapter that curiosity was aligned with both the Bible and Jesus. Unfortunately, the importance of “Bible curiosity” was reduced to simply knowing more about the Bible and Jesus. Satan knows an awful lot about the Bible and Jesus, but all his knowing hasn’t changed the fact that he’s the enemy of God. Bible engagement is much more than knowledge about God and His Word. The emphasis in Bible engagement shouldn’t be Bible knowledge. The stress in Bible engagement should be on severing our loyalties to the world and giving our total allegiance to Christ. Fergus Macdonald, Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement, eloquently says, “Scripture engagement is interaction with the biblical text in a way that provides sufficient opportunity for the text to speak for itself by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling readers and listeners to hear the voice of God and discover for themselves the unique claim Jesus Christ is making upon them.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Radicalized Bible Engagement

To be radicalized is to become more drastic in one’s beliefs. It’s a term that’s commonly used today – usually with negative connotations. In the context of terrorism, a person is radicalized when they sever adherence to the values of society at large and commit themselves fully to the ideology of a terrorist organization like ISIS, Hamas or Al-Qaeda.

Extreme change from an accepted form and absolute commitment to a new form is what Christian faith should be about. Unfortunately this isn’t usually true of most modern-day Christians. Rather than giving our total allegiance to Jesus Christ, we try to keep one foot in the world. For many Christians, the greater value is tolerance or accomodation, certainly not radicalization. Words like subversive, offensive, dangerous or radical are generally not in the average Christian’s vocabulary.

There’s a disturbing disconnect between today’s Christianity and the faith of the Christians mentioned in the Bible. Acceptance and broadmindedness characterizes contemporary Christianity whereas first-century Christians were an offense to society because their allegiance to Christ undermined or threatened the existing views, habits, affairs, conditions, institutions and systems of the Roman world.

Now linking radicalization with Jesus may be a transgression for some or puzzling for others, but, like it was in the first-century, it should be the reality for every Christian today. That’s because Jesus doesn’t call us to a partial dedication or limited commitment. It’s all or nothing. He wants our full and exclusive allegiance. In common with Paul’s advice to Timothy, we’re to flee from the things of the world and fight to take hold of the faith and life we have in Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11-16).

Which brings us to radicalized Bible engagement.

To embrace the Word, which is to embrace the One who is the Word, should be to radically receive and respond to the Word. It’s being all into Him and all out of the world. Bible engagement should be nothing short of giving our total allegiance to the kingdom message and mission of Christ. It should never be a little bit of this or a little bit of that. Radicalized Bible engagement is putting to death every word of darkness and fully immersing ourselves in the Word that brings light. It’s separating ourselves from the lies and half truths that have held us captive. It’s giving our undivided devotion to Christ and choosing to live in resurrection power. It’s appropriating His grace and denying ourselves in order to fully love Him. And it’s being a willing conduit through which His love flows to those in need.

Radicalized Bible engagement is unlike the regular way Christians usually connect with the Bible. It’s also more than a new methodology or approach to reading/hearing the Word. For radicalized Bible engagement is an uprising. It’s saying no to legalistic, guilt fueled, shame based, fear driven religion. It’s connecting with the Word as something more than knowledge to be gleaned or morals to be emulated. It’s letting the Word read us, and as it does, it’s humbling ourselves and crying out for mercy.

Radicalized Bible engagement isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s about being all in. There can be no half measures. It’s encountering the Word in ways that enable us to fully worship, work and witness in order to bring all honour and glory to Him.

When Bible engagement isn’t radicalized we need to change. The ways in which we’ve read, reflected, remembered and responded to the Bible in the past cannot continue with us into the future. Why? Because what got us where we are won’t get us to where we need to be.

Or, stated slightly differently, if what we’re doing now in our Bible engagement practices doesn’t result in absolute commitment to Jesus Christ and extreme transformation in our lives, then we’re not reading/hearing the Bible as we should. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” John 14:23 (NIV). When we’re not reading/hearing the Bible as we should, a complete overhaul of what we’ve been doing, or not doing, needs to happen.

Now that’s not to say that embracing Christ through radicalized Bible engagement will be plain sailing. Far from it! Radicalized Bible engagement places us at odds with the world’s values and choices. God’s Word is, and always has been, an offense to those who are not Christians. Whether we like it or not, when we choose to live out our love for Christ through total obedience to His Word, there will be negative reactions, opposition or persecution.

And herein lies the tension. Some Christians don’t like the fact that God’s Word is an offense (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23-25, 1 Peter 2:8) to those who don’t know or love Jesus. So they try to mitigate the offense by watering down, creatively excusing, or falsely interpreting the Bible’s message. When this happens, the weakening of the Church and the death of faith follows. For every attempt to take the offense out of God’s Word always results in the loss of the saving and transforming power of the Gospel.

So let’s be all in! Let’s forsake lukewarm Bible reading/hearing. Let’s break with our loyalties to the systems, entanglements and distractions of the world. Let’s renounce the fears and failures that control and restrict us. And let’s do this by praying for a Jesus revival in our personal lives and communities of faith. Then, as we pray, let’s subversively reclaim Bible engagement as something more than it’s been by asking God for a form of Bible engagement that results in extreme devotion and absolute allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord of all and Lord for all!

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Reimagining Bible Engagement

The problem with the emphasis of some of today’s Bible engagement teaching is that stress is laid on how often we connect with the Bible and whether or not these connections impact what we think, say and do.

Or to say it differently, the problem in some local churches, Sunday School classes and Bible agencies is that the underlying agenda is to get us to read/hear the Scriptures so that we’ll gain spiritual insight and understanding that results in submitting to and obeying God’s Word (i.e. acting in accordance with biblical morality).

Now hear me out. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage with the Bible regularly. Nor am I saying that the Bible shouldn’t influence how we live. Far from it. But what I am saying is that when the emphasis in Bible engagement is on regularly reading/reflecting on the Bible and ordering our lives according to biblical morality, then we have a problem. It’s a problem because in and of itself, it’s legalism.

You see, we’ll struggle to interact frequently with the Bible and live righteous lives if we aren’t first taken up completely with Jesus. I don’t say that lightly. The focus in Bible engagement must always be on how wonderful, amazing and magnificent Jesus is – nothing less and nothing more!

Now why do I say that? Why should Bible engagement be first, foremost and always about Jesus? Because in Jesus “all things (including Bible engagement) hold together” Colossians 1:17 (NIV).

Here’s the rub. When Bible engagement isn’t always about Jesus, our reading/reflecting on the Bible will be done mainly out of guilt or duty and fueled, not by love, but by fear, shame or self-serving ambitions. And when our Bible reading/reflecting is done out of guilt or duty we usually dry-up or fizzle out. That, or our hearts grow progressively colder and more judgmental – holding to the letter of the law and condemning those who don’t obey God’s commands.

First things first. Bible engagement should always be Jesus engagement. Bible engagement is seeing His glory, knowing His grace, and growing in Him. From beginning to end, the Bible is a window through which we look to see Jesus. So when we read/hear the Bible it’s about opening our eyes and ears to His unbridled compassion, His inestimable salvation, His unstinting care, His extravagant provision, and His infinite mercy.

When we don’t get Jesus first, we’re in trouble. There’s no polite way for me to say this, but when the emphasis is on the regularity of Bible reading/hearing and the importance of moral outcomes, it creates modern-day Pharisees.

Bible engagement without Jesus is a heavy cumbersome load. When it’s about keeping score of how often we read the Bible or how many right choices we make in a day, we’ve missed the mark and will always miss the mark. That’s because Bible engagement, according to Jesus, is less about what we do (or not do), and more about who He is (cf. John 5:39).

At the risk of repeating (albeit in slightly different words) what’s already been said; loving Jesus should never be absent from our Bible engagement. The measure of Bible engagement is whether we are, or are not, meeting with Him. When we read, reflect, remember and respond to the Bible we must do so in a way in which we’re constantly recapitulating our hearts to Jesus and inclining the content of our lives to Him. That’s when Bible engagement takes on a life of its own.

So here’s to reimagining Bible engagement. Let’s read/hear the Word as an encounter with the One who is the Word. For when we meet with the One who is the Word, the rest falls into place. That is, when the priority in Bible engagement is connecting with Jesus and abandoning our lives to Him, that’s when we’ll be committed to regularly reading/reflecting and obeying His Word.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

To the Jews who were persecuting Him, Jesus said, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” John 5:39 (NIV). This should arrest our attention. From a Bible engagement perspective, what could be more important than this text? For in the phrase “that testify about me” we learn that Jesus is present throughout the Old Testament.

Most Christians probably agree that Jesus is central through the New Testament. They’ll also probably agree that He doesn’t seem to be in the Old Testament law or the history of Israel and is only occasionally found in the wisdom literature and the prophets.

Is there a disconnect? Jesus says the Scriptures testify about Him, yet the reality for many Christians is that He’s not plainly revealed in the Old Testament. That is, He seems to be veiled or hidden. Which may be why most Christians tend to mainly read/reflect on the last 20% of the Bible rather than the first 80%.

One of the reasons why we mainly connect with the New Testament is because we want to know Jesus through His Word. But only reading/reflecting on the New Testament to know Jesus through His Word is short-sighted. If we’re reading the Word to know Jesus, and He says in the New Testament that the Old Testament testifies about Him, then our Bible reading/reflecting should include the Old Testament.

All this to simply recognize that maybe, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we need to have our minds opened in order to find Jesus in the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:45). I know I did. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. That is, I needed to be retrained in how to interpret and understand the Old Testament. And that’s why I’m putting a plug in for a helpful resource – David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5